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Offseason Primers: Carolina Panthers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Ron Rivera's first season as head coach in Carolina resulted in a 6-10 record, but there was plenty of optimism about a playoff run, in part because of the play of Cam Newton.

Instead, the team floundered early in Rivera's second season and finished with a 7-9 record, in part because of the play of Newton. Year 3 of the Rivera era could be the last in Carolina if the team doesn't post a winning record -- and you-know-who will be a huge factor.

2012 Touches Leaders
746 total touches (rush attempts + receptions)
DeAngelo Williams 186 (173 car., 13 rec.) 24.9%
Cam Newton 127 car. 17.0%
Jonathan Stewart 110 (93 car., 17 rec.) 14.8%
Mike Tolbert 81 (54 car., 27 rec.) 10.9%
Steve Smith 76 (73 rec., 3 car.) 10.2%
Greg Olsen 69 rec. 9.2%
Brandon LaFell 47 (44 rec., 3 car.) 6.3%
All Others 50 6.7%

The good news for Newton is that his play dramatically improved in the second half of the season, thanks to some tweaks in his game and a favorable schedule. He went from averaging a lousy 17.0 Fantasy points per game in his first seven games to 25.3 per game in his last nine. And for as big a deal as the Panthers' zone-read scheme was, he only scored on six such plays total (compared to 21 in a more standard formation). With many analysts believing defenses will have an answer for the zone-read in 2013, this should be viewed as good news.

And for the first time since his high school days, Newton will be in the same offensive scheme for the third straight year, albeit with a new play caller. Mike Shula replaces Rob Chudzinski as the Panthers offensive coordinator and he's expected to keep most if not all of Chudzinski's offense in place. While there might not be as much creativity as 'Chud' was able to infuse, it keeps Newton comfortable and confident, which is important as he continues to develop.

Newton already will enter 2013 with momentum from last year, but if the Panthers provide him with a good offensive line, he'll have the chance at some monster numbers. And the better he does, the better the Panthers will do. Newton could turn out to be a gem of a pick if he falls to the third round as many expect him to in Fantasy drafts.

DeAngelo Williams -- Offseason sleeper

2012 Target Leaders
490 pass attempts
Steve Smith 138 28.2%
Greg Olsen 104 21.2%
Brandon LaFell 76 15.5%
Louis Murphy 60 12.2%
Mike Tolbert 39 8.0%
Jonathan Stewart 23 4.7%
DeAngelo Williams 20 4.1%
All Others 30 6.1%

Let's be honest: No one's looking for Williams on Draft Day based on how he's done the last two years. He'll be on the wrong side of 30 when the season starts, his rushing average dipped on more carries in 2012 and it would have been practically a full yard lower than the 4.3 average he finished with if not for a 210-yard effort in a meaningless game at New Orleans in Week 17. But before you completely turn your back on Williams, know this: His usage has been a sizable factor in his production as he's failed to post big numbers in part because of a lack of opportunities. Here's proof: Williams has posted 10-plus Fantasy points in half of the 14 games with at least 12 carries he's had over the past three seasons. Make the magic number 13 carries and he's even more efficient, delivering 10-plus Fantasy points in 70 percent of his games. Now there are some fluky stats to help that number up (back-to-back games with 40-plus-yard touchdown receptions last year, for example), but he does not look slow nor does he display any significant decline in ability. If he gets the chance to escape Carolina and play with some consistency in an offense that doesn't let the quarterback hog goal-line work, there's potential for a 1,000-total-yard, eight-touchdown season.

Jonathan Stewart -- Sleeper

Expected 2013 Draft Averages
Cam Newton 20-30 overall
Steve Smith 65-75 overall
Jonathan Stewart 65-75 overall
DeAngelo Williams 75-90 overall
Greg Olsen 90-100 overall
Brandon LaFell Late-round pick
Mike Tolbert Late-round pick
Panthers DST Undrafted
Scenario A has the Panthers keeping DeAngelo Williams, muddying up what would otherwise be a delightful running back situation. Scenario B: The aforementioned delightful running back situation, where Williams is somewhere else and Stewart gets a decent amount of work every week. With a restructured contract in hand (proof the team wants him) and just 93 carries from a season ago, the 26-year-old stands to work as the primary rushing force in the Carolina offense. He was on his way there last year, getting 10-plus carries in six of nine games before hurting his ankle and ultimately having surgery. That's the same amount of 10-carry games he had in 2011, a sign the Panthers tried to lean on him more. There are obvious injury concerns with Stew but he's been a proven 1,000-total-yard guy in the past. The only catch would be touchdown production since he'd almost certainly lose out on goal-line work with Newton and Mike Tolbert in the fold. If Williams is out, Stewart should be in play as a 1,200-total-yard back, easily making him a worthy No. 3 running back.

Mike Tolbert -- Late-round flier

Aside from avoiding the Panthers running backs altogether, perhaps the best idea is to stick Tolbert on the back of your roster with a late pick. His first year in Carolina was gross -- only 54 carries, 27 receptions, 451 total yards and five of his seven touchdowns coming in the final three weeks of the season. But Tolbert split reps with two backs while seeing plenty of playing time as a fullback and a running back. If the Panthers send DeAngelo Williams packing, that should give Tolbert more touches. Throw in Jonathan Stewart's constant ankle and foot problems and one might envision Tolbert working as the full-time back at some point in 2012. At worst, an owner burns a late pick on Tolbert and dumps him after a couple of weeks. At best, Tolbert falls into a 15-touch role on a weekly basis. The risk in taking Tolbert late is low.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard and on Facebook .

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Player News
Rams not expected to pick up 2016 option on S Mark Barron
by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
(4/27/2015) The Rams are not expected to pick up the 2016 option on safety Mark Barron, reports ProFootballTalk.com. 

The Rams acquired Barron from the Buccaneers in a trade midseason last year for a fourth- and sixth-round pick in this year’s draft. 

He started all seven games he was with the Rams in 2014. 

The Rams will evaluate Barron's play in 2015 before deciding if they'll pursue a new contract.


Giants waive running back Michael Cox
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4/27/2015) The Giants have waived running back Michael Cox, the team has announced.

Cox played in four games in 2014, having his season cut short after suffering a fractured leg in Week 10.

A seventh-round draft choice in 2013, Cox played in 18 games and started one in two seasons for the Giants.

Rams to exercise fifth-year option on DT Michael Brockers
by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
(4/27/2015) The Rams have announced that they will exercise the fifth-year option on defensive tackle Michael Brockers, keeping him with the club through at least 2016, per NFL.com. 

Brockers was drafted No. 14 overall in 2012 by the Rams and has started every game for the team the last two seasons. 

The former LSU standout will earn over $5 million in 2016 after signing a four-year, $9.52 million rookie deal.


Report: Eagles excercise fifth-year option on Fletcher Cox
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4/27/2015) The Eagles have reportedly exercised their fifth-year team option on defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, according to NFL Network.

Cox is entering his four season in Philadelphia, where he has missed just one game his career. Cox has totaled 109 tackles and 12 1/2 sacks in his three seasons with the club.


Bills release DB Jonte Green
by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
(4/27/2015) After signing him in January, the Bills have released defensive back Jonte Green, the team has announced.

Green was drafted by the Lions in the sixth round of the 2012 draft out of New Mexico State.

He played 24 games with seven starts over the 2012 and 2013 seasons for the Lions and totaled 38 tackles, one sack, seven passes defensed and one interception.

He did not play in the NFL in 2014.


Bills send DB Jonte Green packing
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4/27/2015) The Bills have released defensive back Jonte Green three-and-a-half months after signing him.

Green played in 24 games with Detroit in 2012 and 2013. He totaled 38 tackles, one sacks and seven passes defensed.


Report: NFLPA appeals Greg Hardy suspension
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4/27/2015) The NFL Players Association has appealed the 10-game suspension of Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy, per the Charlotte Observer.

The union is expected to claim that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell applied the discipline retroactively under the new personal conduct policy, which was not enacted until December - seven months after Hardy was arrested on domestic violence charges.

Goodell, however, has claimed that the suspension is identical to what it would have been under the old policy for conduct detrimental to the league.

Hardy, who signed an incentive-enhanced one-year deal with Dallas in March, could lose as much as $5.8 million if the suspension stands.


Redskins pick up QB Robert Griffin III's fifth-year option
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(4/27/2015) Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan announced Monday that the team will pick up quarterback Robert Griffin III's fifth-year option for the 2016 season, a move worth $16.155 million, per The Washington Post

The Redskins have already announced that Griffin will be the starter this season, and locking him up would not affect the team's plans, if they have any, to draft a quarterback. NFL Media insider Albert Breer said the team views the option as a franchise tag of sorts. 

The risk comes in that if Griffin is hurt during this season, the Redskins would be on the hook to pay the full $16 million. If Griffin does not perform well in 2015, the Redskins could release the quarterback without taking a salary-cap hit. 

Griffin threw for 1,694 yards and four touchdowns with six interceptions last season.


Steelers WR Antonio Brown arrives at team facility
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(4/27/2015) Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, who was noticably absent during the first few days of the team's offseason workout program, was back in camp on Monday, the team reported. 

Speculation bloomed that Brown was dissatisfied with his contract, which is scheduled to pay him $6 million this season, but Brown wrote on Twitter that he was spending time with his newborn child and would be back soon. 

The receiver racked up 1,815 yards and 138 catches for the Steelers last season.


Joe Flacco: Ravens don't need to draft wide receiver
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4/27/2015) When your Super Bowl quarterback doesn't believe his team needs to draft a wide receiver, then perhaps it doesn't.

Joe Flacco feels the Ravens are well-stocked in that area despite having lost Torrey Smith to free agency. They still boast Steve Smith, Marlon Brown, Kamar Aiken, Michael Campanero and Jeremy Butler, but are expected to seriously considering adding a wideout as early as the first round.

"Obviously, without Torrey now, the one thing we probably don't have as much of is that speed, is that one guy who can stretch the field," Flacco told ESPN. "But I'm not going to say we need it. I think we got really good guys and I think we're good with who we have."


 
 
 
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